Bloomberg Businessweek

Holding the World Economy Hostage

Desperate and battered by sanctions, Iran is weakened—and more dangerous than ever

Sun Tzu, the author of the 2,500-year-old The Art of War, is overquoted, but even in ancient China he knew the value of asymmetrical warfare—how smaller forces, such as guerrillas or today’s drones, possess advantages over huge ones, like standing armies or zillion-dollar fighter jets. He also knew to provide a battered opponent an escape, advising the conquering side to “leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.”

Both of those lessons are on display in Iran. President Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy has weakened Iran and hobbled its economy as intended. But it’s also made that country more dangerous, pushing it to strike back in unconventional and hard-to-counter ways, with its leaders rejecting a return to talks while their backs are up against the wall.

Since Trump withdrew from the 2015 agreement meant to contain Iran’s military ambitions and curb its nuclear program, the Islamic republic and its proxies have been hinting at their capacity to play spoiler. They’ve seized tankers, interfered with oil-shipping lanes, and hit archnemesis Saudi Arabia with repeated drone and missile strikes. But the attack on the world’s biggest refinery on Sept. 14—blamed by many on

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